Sunday, 22 January 2012

Backwards and forwards

Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards.  I’ve just been digging through old files to locate information relating to much earlier published work , the first when I was just 14 years old,  to make sure I finally have a complete cv.  It was quite a fascinating process and brought back lots of memories of times when I typed onto a typewriter, progressing to an Amstrad before finally getting a pc.  Now I use a laptop mainly. There are benefits in documenting everything.  It helps to complete the picture.  And whenever I lose confidence and think that, because I’ve never written a major prestigious literary award winning work (and because I write genre fiction) that I’m not a proper writer, I look at my list of published works.  27 novels (many translated into 7 languages), 3 short story collections, 21 poems, 35 articles and nearly 200 short stories.  

The challenge is to keep learning, keep improving.  To keep working at it.

Friday, 20 January 2012

5000 words and being in the zone

Yesterday I wrote 5000 words and finally completed the first draft of my next horse novel for teenagers.  I worked on it for 10 hours, having 2 very short breaks to eat.  I quite like being in the zone to the extent that I forget everything else but it is so intense, I wouldn‘t want this kind of creative state to last too long.

I just hope the story achieves what I intended and that the reader is moved.  These days when I write I tend to think in terms of a single main theme and in this case the theme is love.

I realise that when I watch a film or read a book I now want to distill it down to a single theme.  I may explore this further in a future post…..after a midnight finish yesterday,  tonight will be an evening off writing (apart from posting this blog).   More over the weekend.....

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Event for writers at Sussex University 20-22 January

I have just come across what looks like an interesting event for readers and writers taking place this weekend at Sussex University.  I'm a Sussex alumni but I found out about this by accident, yesterday, when I was having coffee and cake in a new cafe in Folkestone called Batt and Berg.  I was enjoying their lovely banana and chocolate loaf and Guinness parkin when I came across an article in a copy of the Guardian lying on the table. My lunchtime read of Marcus Aurelius Meditations was quickly put to one side to scan what is my favourite newspaper (although I rarely buy papers these days).  Anyway, the event looks good so I thought I would share it with you.  It's called First Fictions and launches 20-22 January and celebrates first novels by new and established writers, with author talks, workshops and an academic conference.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Connectivity and communion

After yesterday's post, I saw a wildlife film on BBC last night that featured wild Carmargue horses and I got to thinking - why horses?  What is it about horses that make us fall in love with them?  Aesthetically, they are beautiful, noble and powerful. Their eyes, their expressions, move us.  I plan to see the film Warhorse next week, and just looking at the horse on the film poster makes me cry!  

Then I thought about the deep seated need we have to connect and communicate with another living being, be that a human animal or a non-human animal.  It's all about communion.  Still doesn't answer the question about horses.  But  a profound spiritual experience occurs when we feel we truly know and understand another living creature, and that they know us. A mixture of relief, joy, calm - and acceptance that some mystery will always remain, and that is what makes it so special and unique. 

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Thursday, 12 January 2012

Falling off and getting back on again

I rode regularly as a child and teenager then became a more sporadic rider when I got the first of many jobs, went to University and got more jobs.  Writing remained a constant (mostly).

Then, after a long gap, in my 30s I started riding lessons again.  Buying the hat, boots and jodhpurs (and gloves!) was very exciting because, as a child, I’d never had the right gear and usually rode in jeans.  I felt like a “proper rider”.

Although I never completely lost my nervousness, this was my golden riding age in terms of achievement, thanks to Soames and Benson.  Soames was a big bright chestnut “schoolmaster”, very forward going, responsive and knowledgeable.  I was a bit scared of him in our first lessons together but he enabled me to experience my first perfect walk to canter transition, which was a revelation!  Soames, although you left this world many, many moons ago, I will always be grateful for what you taught me and the confidence you gave me.

Benson was a bad-tempered bay, not overly fond of humans on the ground but when you were on his back, he was totally different.  Willing, bold and very experienced.  I remember the first time I rode him on a cross country course and was confronted by a row of tyres capped with a pole that looked pretty scary to me.  I hadn’t done a lot of jumping.  But the instructor said, "He knows what to do.  Just let him do it.”  So I did.  And he did.  I felt on cloud nine that night, amazed at what I had been able to achieve on this horse.  I hope Benson is keeping Soames company in horse heaven.  Both horses have made appearances in several guises in my pony books and my book Transitions was partly a tribute to Soames.

Shortly after my riding triumph, funds ran out again and another long gap from riding followed.  More than 10 years ago, maybe longer, I rode again.  The horse was a young, dark bay called Stormy and half way through the lesson, he bucked me off.  This was a first for me and came so out of the blue - one minute we were cantering happily, the next I was flying through the air and narrowly avoided being impaled on the fence.  It shook me up a tad.  I lay in the sand for a while, contemplating what had just happened.  Legs shaking, I caught up with Stormy and remounted.  But my nerve had gone.

Recently, I have been trying to tackle my phobias and fears and understand now why it it so important to get back on after a fall.  To face the fear as soon as possible, because the longer you let it fester, the bigger it becomes.

Gazing out of the window on a train journey just before Christmas, looking across the frost covered fields, I had a sudden urge - longing almost - to be on horseback again.  The place where I used to ride has gone, but I’ve made enquiries and found a local stables where I can try again.  I’ve resolved 2012 will be the year I get back on again -  in every sense.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Footsteps in the Sand - Guest blog from Jan Woodhouse

In response to feedback, I'm delighted to post a guest blog from artist, photographer and writer Jan Woodhouse.  Check her website and blog. 

"Responding to your blog (which I really like) I was thinking about your comments on life journeys.  The word ‘journey’ has become a bit of a cliché, what with all the contestants on X-Factor banging on about their respective journeys.  But whether or not we use the ‘J’ word, I think we all have a sense of some sort of process in our lives, and try as I might I can’t think of another word that fits the bill.  I suppose the usual themes embody some sort of personal success or fulfilment, or an incremental building of self-belief. A notion of progress is usually implied.  But what about all those detours and diversions and interruptions along the way?  All those little passages that seemed so irresistible but turned out to be cul-de-sacs?  And yet perhaps even the darkest and dustiest of these had something worth finding.

On 28th March 2010, not long after I started my blog,  I posted some thoughts on Footsteps in the Sand, and I guess this is still relevant.  Are we more interested in the footsteps we leave behind, or what we glimpse along the way?"

Jan Woodhouse

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Running, cats and writer's block

When I was a child, a teenager and throughout my twenties, writing came so easily and the words would flow effortlessly.  Now, I have to wrestle the words out.  It’s a struggle. A wrench.  Like dragging myself  from under the duvet on a cold winter morning.

Last summer, I took up running.  The main reasons were fitness and weight loss, but actually the thing I like best about running is the head space it gives you.  And, although I keep harking back to this, each run is a short journey.  And journeys are so effective at stimulating the creative juices.

When I was on my way back from a run on Friday morning, I noticed up ahead that a black and white cat was sitting on the zebra crossing in the middle of the road.  He was deeply engrossed in sniffing at something that demanded his attention, so much so that when a a learner in a driving school car passed by me towards the crossing, the cat stayed put.  The car stopped and the instructor must have told his pupil to sound the horn.  A loud hoot still didn’t persuade the cat to move.  I wondered what would happen next.  I was worried about the cat, wondering if I should try and scoop him up and keep him safe.  But the car, after waiting a bit longer,  simply drove onto the wrong side of the road and round the cat, who then sauntered casually away.

Watching this,  I recalled an assertiveness course I  attended many moons ago.  I don’t remember much about it but what did stick was this advice:  if you encounter an obstacle, either remove it or go round it.

I don’t really believe in writer’s block as such, in the sense that I rarely have problems getting ideas.  The issue is reining those ideas in and focussing on what to do with them.  And writing them down.  The actual writing, that’s the hard bit.  My favoured approach, like the car, would be to go around the obstacle.  In practical terms, this means doing something else until I can address the real problem.  So if I’m not working on my novel, like I should be, I might write a short story, a feature, a blog (my own or a guest blog) or get on with some marketing.  I hate to waste time.  So although I’m not actually removing my obstacle at least I’m achieving something.    I suppose you could call it productive procrastination.

That cat was really cute.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Blog stuff

Just trying to get to grips with blogrolls, following, and technical stuff....lots to learn....

The Beautiful Room

The Beautiful Room is an imaginary place where all the unpublished manuscripts and unperformed music is stored.  A room bursting with creativity, colour and sound.  Just waiting to be discovered, for someone to open that door........

Monday, 2 January 2012

More on journeys

I said in a previous blog that life is a journey.  I do believe this.  I feel it.  Not long after I had written it I started to read Super Sad True Love Story, a novel set in the future by Gary Shteyngart.  He was interviewed in the BBC documentary called Books - The Last Chapter (referred to in a previous blog) and this inspired me to seek out his novel.

The second paragraph reads, “Don’t let them tell you life is a journey.  A journey is when you end up somewhere.  When I take the number 6 train to see my social worker, that’s a journey.”

That made me think about my journey.  Where do I want to end up?  I don’t know the answer yet, although we all end up in the same place ultimately.  Journey and destination.  Both matter.

Train journeys and car journeys both provide great creative space, I find, whether I am driver or passenger.  Ideas fire off unprompted in a way that rarely happens if I am staring at my computer screen.

I’ve just read Rumblestrip by Woodrow Phoenix, a monochrome graphic book all about what happens when we get behind a steering wheel.  The layout cleverly simulates a car journey and as you read, you feel as if you are in fact on a virtual car journey.  I came across this book in a store in London at

I keep promising myself I will go on one of their day schools some time.  Anyway, the book provides alarming statistics about deaths caused by driving and is thought-provoking.  I sometimes dream about driving a car, and when I drive at night, I sometimes wonder if I am dreaming.  Woodrow Phoenix describes it perfectly:

“There is a dreamlike quality built into the experience of driving.  A car windshield is a big window.  And also a screen….locations unwind on the other side of this rectangular glass almost as they do on a movie screen….you sit cocooned in your cabin….everything outside your windows is contained, the rest of the world an arm’s length away… glide through location after location as if they were erected just for you to drive past.  Every journey is a narrative with you at the centre.”  

I love that last line.

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On connections

I’ve been thinking a lot about connections.

The internet is all about connections.  As someone whose favourite place as a child (apart from the riding stables) was the library, the opportunities to explore and research and learn through the internet is what I find most exciting.  Your own, constantly evolving, library.  Amazing.

But the internet has spawned it’s most popular child, Facebook.  I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.  Although it’s power and influence alarms me, I have a profile.  I post from time to time.  I like the way I can stay in touch with my friends and share events and thoughts with them.  It enables us to make connections and feel part of a community.  Humans need to feel connected.

We enjoy comedians when we can recognise the situations and emotions they describe.  I was watching Michael McIntyre the other night and I laughed because what he was saying was so familiar.  It’s the same with the writers we click with.  If they create characters that we can empathise with, we care about them.  We need to feel connected, part of something bigger.  To know we are NOT alone (although we are). It creates a necessary illusion.

Ironic that on so many levels humans have the tools to be more connected than ever before, yet on a deeper level we can feel disconnected.

More on this will follow, because as I approach my fiftieth year a number of interrelated topics demand my attention - as a writer and as a human being.

Journeys.  Connections.  Identity.  Purpose.

For most of my life I have set myself goals and targets.  I would feel adrift without them.  But recently I have realised that more important is purpose.  More elusive but offering a deeper level of satisfaction.    I haven’t identified my purpose yet but I will.  Soon.

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